Plastic planes, playing the Eiffel Tower and more in this week’s Staff Picks

Staff Picks 06_08_2013 header

jennifer-bergenJen Bergen: It’s not a GIF, it’s not a Vine … it’s a Coub

Let’s face it; Vine is huge – and understandably so. Take the concept of the GIF and turn it into something anyone can create with a 6-second-long video of their own, and you have an instant hit. One company, Coub, is taking the same idea of the GIF – repetitive, looping video – and putting a spin on it by making it into a music video of sorts. With Coub, you can upload a video from YouTube or Vimeo, clip it to 10 seconds, and then have the video endlessly loop over and over. The catch is that users can upload an MP3 to go with it, turning Coub into a kind of music video generator.

With the right kind of creative mind, and creative editing, a Coub video can be pretty darn hilarious. Since you may be wondering why all the comments on these Coubs are in Russian, we should mention that a pair of Russian brothers developed the now year-old site, and that Coub has picked up more in Russia than here in the U.S. However, according to TechCrunch, over the last few months, Coub has started attracting as many as 1 million visitors a day. I tried my luck on Coub to see what it’s like, and I can say creating a Coub is very simple. The hardest part is thinking up a good idea!

Les ShuLes Shu: On a plastic wing and a prayer

Last Sunday, Airbus successfully revved up the engines on its latest aircraft, an A350-900, making it one step closer in taking the plane toward its first flight. The A350-900 – part of a family of wide-body, twin-engine jets known as the A350 XWB – will usher in a brand-new type of plane from Airbus.

Designed to compete with Boeing’s 787 “Dreamliner” and 777, the A350 is the first Airbus plane with a fuselage and wings built out of carbon fiber-reinforced plastic, similar to the construction of the 787. As airlines cite fuel as one their biggest expenses, the A350 is far more fuel-efficient than planes made with conventional metal. The plane will also feature a new cockpit using the latest display technologies, like head-up displays. Unlike the 787, which uses lithium-ion batteries to save on weight – the cause of recent grounding of planes across the globe, due to fires – the A350 uses traditional nickel-cadmium batteries.

If all goes well, a six-member team of test pilots and engineers will fly the plane at the upcoming Paris Air Show, which runs from June 17 to 23.It will be several more months of testing before it starts carrying passengers. If everything goes according to schedule, the plane will go into service in 2014 on Qatar Airways.

caleb-denisonCaleb Denison: He’s not crazy, he’s a composer

If the Eiffel Tower could sing, what would it sound like? We’re about to find out. Sort of.

Joe Bertolozzi is a composer of music. On the surface, Bertolozzi looks like a complete nut job as he bangs on various objects with a multitude of multi-textured implements. But in truth, he’s gathering sounds for what will ultimately become a cleverly composed piece of music.

Apparently, one of Bertolozzi’s dreams is to “play” the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France. And it looks like that dream has come true. In the video below, Joe gives us a taste of his methods and explains some of the challenges involved with getting approval by Parisian authorities to, in essence, beat the hell out of one of the world’s most prized and recognizable monuments. Not only will you get to see how Bertolozzi got his foot in the door with local officials, but you’ll get a taste for what his French fanfare might wind up sounding like. Yay for YouTube.

Andrew CoutsAndrew Couts: Bored with Web surfing? Learn a language for free

I was about 30 seconds into my 300th round of Dots the other evening when I realized that, one day sooner or later, I was going to die. None of us make it out of this muck alive, I told myself. And here you are, half-numb from boredom, wasting away the evening playing connect the dots. I can only thank the gods that there were no mirrors nearby in which to witness my loserdom. Disgusted, I chucked my iPhone onto the floor, picked up my laptop and opened Reddit – a stupid, stupid move for someone balancing on the edge of silent self-hatred. But this time, I got lucky.

The first link I clicked on led me to Duolingo, a free language-learning website created by the same guy that invented CAPTCHA and reCAPTCHA, Luis von Ahn. My girlfriend speaks fluent Italian, and I have always told myself I would learn. (Lessons in French, Spanish, German, and Portuguese are also available.) Here was my chance to not just accomplish this goal, but to do so with the same amount of effort as browsing Reddit or playing Dots. Just one day later, I’m up to Level 5, and can say helpful things like “Gil animali non sono uomini,” which, for you English-only peons out there, means “The animals are not men.” See? I’m already more awesome, and I didn’t even have to leave my couch.


natt garunNatt Garun: Something’s very wrong about this exhibit that lets you pet black people’s hair

Sure, there’s a lot of navel gazing that goes on in a city like New York. Sometimes it can be hard to distinguish between really awesome art installations, like MoMA’s Rain Room, and purely silly attempts at art. The latter seems to be the case with this new exhibit called “You Can Touch My Hair.” The experience, set up by, will allow curious passerbys to stop by Union Square touch various textures of African American hair. I’m gonna stop there because I don’t know how else to rationalize what this exhibit is trying to do.

Why can’t we just accept black hair as an ordinary variation of a human trait? Instead, this exhibit thinks its OK to put African Americans into what’s basically a petting zoo. I may not understand the full intent of this exhibit, but this seems to defeat the purpose. What next – are we going to rally up gingers and put them in a cage so we can examine their light-sensitive skin and bright hair color? Geezus, New York, I love you, but your people are letting me down. This is a place that’s supposed to welcome diversity and celebrate culture. Just let people live without putting them in a glass box for being different.


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